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Oct. 5 - County Tax Rate to Drop

This article appeared int the E-Ticker News Oct. 5, 2015

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier
County Tax Rate To Drop

Sullivan County taxpayers will get yet another slight reduction on top of the earlier small cut they were originally slated to receive in their county taxes this year.

On Oct. 1 the Sullivan County Delegation to New Hampshireʼs House of Representatives unanimously approved taking another $650,000 from surplus revenue, and using the funds to reduce the countyʼs portion of property taxes. This $650,000 is on the top of the $250,000 in surplus revenues that the Delegation had earlier decided to return taxpayers, when It adopted the current Fiscal Year 2016 County Budget on June 23. On top of the earlier-adopted $250,000, the additional $650,000 returned to taxpayers will mean that county taxes should go down an average of 21 cents per $1,000 of property tax valuation.

Approval of returning the additional surplus from the previous Fiscal Year 2015 County Budget came on an 11-0 roll call vote with two representatives-Plainfieldʼs Lee Oxenham and Granthamʼs Andrew Schmidt- being absent. Approval followed a brief public hearing on the same night in Newportʼs Woodhull County Building, and after a majority of the Delegationʼs EFC (Executive Finance Committee) had recommended returning the $650,000 on Sept. 14. Only one citizen, former County Commissioner and Unity Selectman John Callum, spoke in support of returning the additional surplus. No citizens spoke in opposition. However, County Commissioners Jeff Barrette, Ben Nelson, and Ethel Jarvis all expressed concerns that returning the additional surplus would make their job harder in the next few years in crafting a county budget that funded necessary services without raising taxes. But none of them expressed outright opposition to returning the $650,000. 

EFC Chair and Sunapee Rep. Suzanne Gottling said that a majority of the EFC had recommended returning the additional $650,000 in surplus for two main reasons. First, the county had received more ProShare money than originally anticipated in the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget. For readersʼ information, ProShare is financial aid that New Hampshire State Government gives to county nursing homes like Sullivan County Health Care to help pay for the poorer residents of these homes. Financial aid that Sullivan County usually doesnʼt receive until near the end of the current county budgetʼs fiscal year in June from my experience on the Delegation. Financial aid that often isnʼt received until after the next county budget has been approved by the Commissioners and Delegation.

Second, Rep. Gottling, a Democrat, added that an audit of the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget had just been completed. She explained that the audit had indicated to the EFC that there was still enough money in the countyʼs undesignated fund balance, or in other wordsʼ the countyʼversion of the rainy day fund, to justify returning the additional $650,000 to taxpayers without serious jeopardy to the countyʼs fiscal health. Enough money in the undesignated fund balance on top of the funds already designated by the Commissioners and Delegation to go into separate reserve accounts for help pay for long-term capital expenses as well as unforeseen nursing home expenses in June. 

EFC Vice Chair and Lempster Rep. James Grenier, a Republican, echoed Rep. Gottlingʼs support for returning the $650,000 surplus to taxpayers. Rep. Grenier said that he believed returning the $650,000 was just about the right amount to return. He added that he believes county taxpayers need some property tax relief now. He concluded by stating while he appreciates the three commissionersʼ concerns that returning the additional surplus could result in increased property taxes that such increases would not likely occur for at least another two years, and be minimal at best. 

For readersʼ information, I did vote to return the additional $650,000 in surplus funds back to taxpayers this year as did Claremontʼs three other representatives-Larry Converse, Raymond Gagnon, and Andrew OʼHearne. I voted to return the $650,000 because I believe Claremont and the rest of Sullivan Countyʼs 14 communities need all the property tax relief they can get, although such relief will be small in comparison to the school and municipal portions of the property tax. Also I do not believe returning the $650,000 will jeopardize the countyʼs fiscal situation at this time. But I also understand the three Commissionersʼ concerns about having enough money to pay for county services in the future without raising county taxes. For example, they said they may need more money to pay county employees competitive salaries as well as the countyʼs share of increasing health care costs. Concerns that the three publicly shared with me as the Delegation Chair, and Rep. OʼHearne, who is the Delegation Vice Chair, at a Commissionersʼ meeting held just before the Oct. 1 public hearing. 

Based on these concerns, I caution my Claremont constituents, and other Sullivan County taxpayers as of today, that this may be the last year that their county taxes will actually be reduced. Next year, we should expect at best that county taxes will stay at the same level, and in the following year that might be a slight increase in taxes.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net


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